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Cannes 2011: Elisabeth Olsen on Martha Marcy May Marlene

Sean Durkin’s Sundance favourite Martha Marcy May Marlene premiered in Cannes last night, where it’s showing in the Un Certain Regard category, to rapturous applause.

Earlier today Total Film sat down with its young star Elisabeth Olsen (sister of former tween idols Mary-Kate and Ashley) to chat about the film and her fledgling career.

On relating to her character, Martha…

“I think that the main thing was figuring out why she would be in a cult - what would she need as a person to end up being in such a place. The whole point of her journey is trying to find a place where she belongs, to have a purpose and find a meaning in some place that gives her love and compassion.

She never had that in her family, so she goes to a place where they provide all those things for her and it ends up becoming abusive.

Personally relating to something is such a difficult thing because I can’t personally relate to this, but I can relate to things scene-by-scene - like fearing something or being nervous about something or trying to hide something from someone. So you try and relate to all the small things.”

On the cult featured in the movie…

“It’s not religious, it’s an organized society - the main goal is to find something where they belong or where they feel like a part of something.

I think anything that’s extremist is not a good idea. I mean this farm, this cult could potentially be a good idea - they eat what they make and they sell things and they only eat what they need.

But then they share everything, including their bodies and all of that, and everything becomes manipulated.”

On filming the movie’s scenes of abuse…

“When we filmed those scenes we only had the DoP, the focus puller and Sean [ Durkin, director ] - you know, a small, closed set. They made you feel really comfortable, but at the same time the mindset of when you’re actually doing the scene is really disturbing…

But that’s what it requires and you do it as best you can, and then afterwards you start laughing - you don’t know what else you’re supposed to do because it’s kind of an awkward situation.

I think the importance is being able to leave it afterwards and know that that’s not you and it’s your job and going through these things is all for the purpose of making something bigger than yourself.”

On her acting heroes…

“Growing up, Diane Keaton and Annette Bening were people who I really loved - they were strong and funny and quirky and funny and interesting.

And recently I’ve just been trying to think well how have people managed the small films and the big films - how do they mix it?

I think Kate Winslet does that really well - she does the whole gambit, so that’s some I really look up to as well.”

On her career goals…

“The only goal I have right now is longevity. And I think the only way people who I’ve watched have done that - their strength was in the things they turned down as opposed to things that they chose, because you can’t say yes to everything, although for a while you kinda have to at first.

So what’s interesting to me right now is finding things that I feel I could grow from, whether it’s as a person or an actor. But I think my main goal is to have a career I can sustain.”

Marth Marcy May Marlene opens later this year.